THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 192
Interview on 05.19.2022

Hosted By
Kevin Daisey

Featuring Attorney

Michael Romer



Managing Partner of
Romer Debbas

About Michael Romer

Michael J. Romer is the co-founder and Managing Partner of New York City's Romer Debbas. Michael represents a broad range of clients in connection with the acquisition, sale, lease, development and/or financing of commercial land residential properties. Such clients include both domestic and foreign individuals buying for residential or investment purposes as well as institutional and private equity clients. Michael and co-founder Pierre E. Debbas had a vision to create a full-service firm that could handle any and all real estate related matters including acquisition, sale, leasing, co-op/condo board representation, development as well as related areas such as corporate, real estate litigation, estate planning and immigration. Providing the best advice in a cost-effective manner is a core principal of the firm.

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Episode Transcript

Kevin Daisey:
Hello, hello everyone. We are live for another live recording of the Management Partners Podcast. My name’s Kevin Daisey, and I’ll be your host. I also am one of the founders of Array Digital, where we exist to help law firms fill their case pipeline using digital marketing, so if you need that kind of help, please reach out, tune in, and we will help you out. Today, I’m doing my special guest out of New York, Michael Romer, welcome to the show.

Michael Romer:
Thanks for having me.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. We originally, if you’re tuning into this, you might have seen some of our stuff. My business partner, Eric Olson was going to be interviewing Michael, but he is a little sick today, a little under the weather, so I’m stepping in, and I’m the better host anyway, so it’s all good. But Michael, thanks for being a good sport and allowing us to kind of juggle you around a little bit, but I appreciate you-

Michael Romer:
No. No worries at all. The pleasure’s mine.

Kevin Daisey:
Yes. Well, I just appreciate you coming on and sharing some of your insight, so we can learn more about you, your journey, your firm, what makes you unique and different, and I’m sure everyone else is as well. Without further ado, can you tell us the Michael Romer story. What made you become an attorney? What was that defining moment? Kind of take us through that and how you got to where you are today?

Michael Romer:
No, I really appreciate it. Thanks again for having me. I am Michael Romer, the managing partner of Romer Debbas in New York City, but how did I get to that point? When I went to college, I thought the logical next step was well, I need to do something else, whether it’s law school or graduate school, and I decided to go to law school. While in law school, I thought, “Well, what am I going to be?” My dad was in the police force, so I thought about going the DA route, criminal law route. I thought about becoming the next Jerry McGuire, going the sports and entertainment route, and you take your internships and you start to get some experience, but ultimately after law school, there’s no real story behind it, but I just really fell in love with real estate and the practice of real estate.

Michael Romer:
I never really enjoyed courtroom law, going into court, litigating cases. I like to consider myself a lover, not a fighter so much. Going into court, and I did that for a bit. My first job coming out of law school was a landlord tenant litigator, so if you want a job where you’re the least popular person in the room, you can represent landlords in L and T Housing Court. I did that for a good nine months and I realized this is not for me, and I shifted to the real estate transactional world, and that’s where I’ve been for the last 20 years.

Michael Romer:
I found my home, and I was really happy working for law firms, building up my practice, and then ultimately being a business major coming out of college, I always wanted to start something on my own, to start a business. I had the luxury to have a good friend of mine, Pierre Debbas, who’s my other half, and we had worked together, and we reached a point where we realized, “You know what? Let’s just do this together. Let’s put a firm together, two friends, let’s go against the world.” I’ll tell you, business just took off. This is 11 years ago, and business took off from day one, and we’ve been off and running ever since. It’s really been a true pleasure, not only to build something, but to do it with a good friend.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, that’s excellent, and thanks for sharing kind of how you got to where you are. I think it’s interesting just to kind of hear the different stories and how people got to where they are, but it always seems to start with experiences that lead attorneys to where they end up, and for anyone, you get into one thing and you go work at a firm or intern, and typically what I hear is people find out what they don’t like.

Michael Romer:
Yeah, that’s true.

Kevin Daisey:
They kind of figure that out real quickly, and it sounds like you did too. I think it’s great having a partner like that. I have a business partner, Eric, who is the other host of the show. Similar things, me and him own our own businesses, but we eventually started working together and founded this company together, when we had our own businesses beforehand, but it just made sense. Having a partner, it makes it a lot easier sometimes, especially when you need to be on leave or if you’re sick, like he’s sick today. He’s out and I’m taking over a lot of things for him, so it just makes things a lot easier to handle.

Michael Romer:
It sure does.

Kevin Daisey:
Give us a little more information on the makeup of your firm, what you really specialize in. The different areas that you do cover, what maybe your partner does versus what you focus on, and kind of also, how many folks you have in the firm apart from your partner.

Michael Romer:
Well, we started back in 2011 as a two attorney firm, and now we’re 22 attorneys. We’re based in Midtown Manhattan, and the vision of the firm was to be a full service real estate firm. Handling everything from transactions to litigation, and then all the offshoot practice areas such as your trust and estates, lender representation, corporate work, and we really wanted to become a one stop shop for folks looking to either buy homes or to invest in real estate. As the firm grew, it went from two attorneys, then to seven, then to 14, then up to 22, and that’s really where we’re sitting now. We’re 11 partners. We just named our latest partner yesterday, so I’m proud to announce that our partnership room is 30% female at this point, and we’ve really worked to try and diversify the firm too. We’re at about 40 people, all in all, with partners, associates, and staff. It’s really been exciting to build this team. Now you have some swings and misses over the years, but to build the team that we have now, I couldn’t be more proud than where I am today.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s excellent. Well, congrats on the success.

Michael Romer:
Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:
Where you’re at is pretty strong, and that you’ve stayed true to folks on real estate and any practice area that may support that. I think, with trust and estates, and all that stuff, it kind of goes hand in hand, I believe as far as… Especially for investors and things like that. I’m trying to get more into real estate myself, personally. It’s something I read up a lot on, and I’m always learning about and trying to navigate my way through it.

Michael Romer:
Kevin, I’m one of the biggest proponents of real estate for investment purposes. Working in Midtown Manhattan, when you talk about the value of real estate over time, there really is no better example than looking at New York real estate to see it appreciate over time, and to be able to help people either buy homes or buy office buildings, it can be fun. It really can. It is a high pressure, high speed, high volume environment. You need to be able to move quickly, get deals done, tons of money involved, but it’s exciting and stressful at the same time.

Kevin Daisey:
Well, yeah, I mean, you got to show up and be excited about what you’re doing and you can’t always be comfortable and own a business. You got to be a little out of your comfort zone. Things have to be… Sometimes you got to navigate through them and you have to have a challenge, right?

Michael Romer:
It’s true.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Real estate brings all those things, especially this market this year. Commercial may have been a little bit different, but for the residential market was just insane.

Michael Romer:
I’m going to give you an example and these numbers might blow your mind.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay.

Michael Romer:
Obviously, the housing market in New York City, the prices are very high in terms of what properties cost, but in the first 11 months of 2021, we closed over 1 billion of residential sales in New York City. The numbers are astounding, and we do work all throughout the country, but just in that one aspect, in our residential department, to surpass that 1 billion mark. On the commercial side, we’ve got a full commercial real estate department, the amount of transactions, the value of commercial transactions, obviously not as high for obvious reasons in the city, but the commercial lending practice where banks are lending on these properties has probably been one of our most practice areas, so those two, the residential and commercial lending are really our two core areas at this point.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. Okay. Well, that’s some big numbers right there. That’s insane. Yeah. It’s just the market’s been just crazy. I don’t know. We’ll talk more about your firm too, in a second and some of the things you do to get clients and things like that, but what do you see coming down the pike? I guess, as far as a shift in the market, is there going to be any kind of interest rates? I know they’re going up. What do you kind see from the residential side of things as far as the next year might hold for us?

Michael Romer:
Well, the answer to that question always depends upon the market itself, what area, but I think we’re going to see more of the same for a period of time. You have to watch the interest rates, then the interest rates, they have to go up at some point in time, but for the most part, we’re expecting the interest rates to stay relatively the same over the course of the next year. You might see some slight increases. Now, going into 2023 and beyond, obviously the rates are going to go up, but for the next year, we’re anticipating more of the same. More activity, more volume, and in a market like ours, which is often heavily reliant on non-U.S. money. That $1 billion I was just talking about, that was 98% domestic money, so the foreign money hasn’t even come back yet. Yeah, we’re anticipating that money coming in, in 2022 and a very busy year.

Kevin Daisey:
Awesome. Well, I appreciate the insight on that, and well, just keep an eye on it.

Michael Romer:
Let’s hope.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Okay. Well, back to law firm. You’ve had some great success, you’ve had some great growth. You started your firm with your partner. It sounds like you had good growth right out the door and were busy. What are some of the things that you have done from an outbound and marketing standpoint that has worked well for you to get clients?

Michael Romer:
Well, for us, we were two very motivated and hungry guys at the time, and we were pounding the pavement. In-person meetings, cocktail parties, lunch meetings, whatever we needed to do to get out there and just to build. Over the course of time, that started to pay dividends more and more, and more, and more. We were doing a lot of that, and then we were getting into the media, getting quoted in real estate media, writing articles. We were doing all of this ourselves, and as business grew, we were realizing, “Hold on, there’s only so much we can do.” For about the first eight years of the firm, we were doing all of our marketing ourself. We were dealing with reporters directly, and we’re talking about getting quoted in the likes of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and all these various media publications. Then-

Kevin Daisey:
The Nasdaq, I saw you guys on there.

Michael Romer:
Yep. My partner is regularly on TV these days in terms of Bloomberg, and Fox News, and places like that, which is all great, but we realized at some point in time that we needed somebody to help us with marketing, so we did outsource and bring in a PR public relations specialist to really help us with all of our media needs, events like this, setting up our TV appearances and quotes in the papers. We realized there’s a limit to how much we can do, and for a control freak like myself, we realized it was time to let go and let the professionals take over. I will tell you, it has paid dividends, and our PR team is top notch.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s awesome. Yeah. At some point you can only do so much and then it kind of takes the back burner sometimes if you’re busy. I think that’s a good way to go. Yeah, that makes sense.

Michael Romer:
No, they’ve helped a great deal, but it was a lot of pounding the pavement, a lot of in-person meetings, but fast forward to where we are now, in terms of the marketing that we did then versus the marketing that we’re doing now. I mean, look at what we’re doing today. The virtual marketing has really paid huge dividends, and there’s one big thing I want to talk about. In addition to being the managing partner of a real estate law firm in the city, what we did when really COVID hit, and in Manhattan and New York City, and then throughout the country, obviously, but in our particular market it was pretty dire times for a few months. There was a lot of fear in terms of not being able to see people in person and as a law firm, well, how do we operate?

Michael Romer:
How do we get in front of people if we’re not going to brokerage houses, and banks, and having these in-person meetings? What we actually did is, we actually created another business. It’s called the New York Real Estate Center, and the New York Real Estate Center is an online real estate education and information platform, and to become or to continue to be a real estate agent or broker in New York, you need to take continuing education classes. What we actually did is we filmed all the required classes that agents and brokers would need. During the pandemic, we were having Zoom classes three, four times a week, and we probably gave out some 15,000 certificates to real estate agents and brokers in the New York area.

Michael Romer:
I’ll tell you, after we did all of that, our exposure and our referral sources tripled over the course of doing that. Then we were doing these from our homes, wherever we could, and look, the video quality wasn’t the best, because we’re doing it from our homes and we’re doing it from wherever we could actually get set up with a computer and a microphone, but I’ll tell you, the virtual marketing, and I know you’re a big proponent of this too, has really changed the game for us.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s excellent. Really cool. Everyone, if you’re watching, tuning in, the website address is below on my screen. That’s nyrecenter.com. So N-Y-R-E center.com. If you’re listening on your podcast, go check that out. I just went ahead and googled it right while you were saying it. Really cool stuff. How long did it take you to kind of come up with this thought, and then put this out and get it out there to people?

Michael Romer:
Well, the thought was preexisting. We were already planning on creating this, but we had to change the way we did it. Initially, we were going to rent studios, or to rent halls and have these big live in-person classes, interactive format, because we’ve been teaching and doing presentations for a long time. For the last 10 plus years, but we had this idea, “Well, why don’t we start filming these classes?” So that somebody can take their continuing education class on their phone, or their laptop, or whatever the case may be, and also, to get the benefit of those in-person presentations.

Michael Romer:
But then we realized, “Hold on a second now,” we actually had a hall booked. We’d rented three, four days of space, and we were going to have this big event, and then we had to put the brakes on everything. What we did is, we had to call on Audible and we actually did it all by Zoom. We touched more people doing it by Zoom and the virtual way than we ever would’ve touched with the in-person presentations. The numbers were astounding. I mean, it was somewhere in the area of 15,000 certificates over the course of several months, but people thought we were crazy when we did this. People thought, well, how-

Kevin Daisey:
That’s how you know you’re on to something.

Michael Romer:
Yeah. “Why are you guys wasting your time doing virtual presentations? Nobody’s watching, nobody’s going to pay attention. You need to focus on your business. You need to focus on the deals that are happening. How are they going to close?” We were doing all that, but we also knew, “Hold on, let’s think. At some point, this pandemic has to end.” Obviously, things have gotten better, but during the height of it, we had to look beyond it and say, “Okay, business will resume at some point. If we do this, hopefully we’ll have more of it at the end of the day,” and thankfully that turned out to be the case and we proved our naysayers wrong.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. No, I think it’s a great time on your part, and I think business has changed forever, to some degree, where this will be way more normal. People are going to go probably hybrid more than not for office, for the companies and people, and law firms in general, and the courts, and all the other stuff has taken a leap forward as far as the technology. They were forced to do a lot of things sooner than later. I think things are definitely changed, and I think systems like that, and platforms like that will be more popular going forward.

Michael Romer:
Kevin, I’m glad you brought that up, because as a managing partner we had to change the way we think. We had to change the way that we operate on the fly now. My partner and I were old school. You come into the office, we need to see you. We need to see the work. We need to see the billable hours. I used to joke that working from home was working from home, and I had to realize-

Kevin Daisey:
You’re not really working.

Michael Romer:
Right. I had to realize that we had attorneys, for instance our litigators, a lot of court conferences were being done virtually, but the attorneys, let’s say, working from home were actually billing more hours from their house than they were from coming into the city. You look at that from a business model and you realize, “Hold on, there has to be a balance here.” I am not a proponent of full virtual, full remote, long-term as a business model, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a beauty in being in the middle and coming up with a hybrid where you could actually allow your employees to work remotely a couple days, to come into the office a couple days. We’ve really seen the benefits of that, especially at the partner level, where partners can be remote a couple days a week and come into the office a couple days a week, but nothing beats the in-person connection for lawyers.

Michael Romer:
We had one lawyer that during the pandemic converted his garage into an office and then decided to just start his own firm, because he felt he didn’t need the firm affiliation anymore. Now, I understand and I respect that, but that’s the downside of the working remotely concept. It’s hard to keep people. It’s hard to keep people motivated, but from our standpoint, we’ve really come to appreciate the beauty of the hybrid.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Now we’re in the same place. I’m at home today. You’re at home today, and I have a handful of people who we have a physical office building, but I do have employees around the country and we do our best to do virtual meetings every single morning, daily huddles with the team all together, so they can see each other. Some people will never be in that case for our company, but we have core people that we want in.

Michael Romer:
[inaudible 00:20:06].

Kevin Daisey:
Leadership, some top level people. There’s things that we do strategy wise that having the office, it’s just part of our culture. It’s part of how we got to where we are, but at the same time, understanding that some people won’t be able to, and that’s okay. If someone needs to work from home, that’s okay. Just have the set up, make sure we purchase things that they need at home to have the area to work. Yeah. If you look at me, I drive to my office, it takes 30 minutes, takes 30 minutes back, so it’s an hour. Then you have distractions sometimes in the office, so there’s some pros and cons. We’re definitely in the hybrid model for now, and that’s where I see. I’ve heard a lot of firms, for the most part, are doing either full virtual or hybrid. There’s a few that just never stopped leaving… They never left the office at all.

Michael Romer:
Yeah. I’ve been going in since June 2020. New York City was a ghost town at that point in time, but look, it’s my company, it’s my business, yeah? I needed to get there.

Kevin Daisey:
[crosstalk 00:21:08].

Michael Romer:
I needed to see it, and to talk about the remote aspect, think about the office space. We rent 11,000 square feet in Midtown Manhattan. This is very expensive real estate. How do you justify that? You need to justify that expense, and the only way to do that is to get people to come back to work.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, yeah. Or you have to get rid of some of the footprint and have enough to support that hybrid model. That’s the other thing, we have offices built. We did a new build out in our office, and we surveyed the whole team, “Who wants to come in, who doesn’t want to come in?” Then those that wanted to stay at home, we allowed and we built some new offices out just for the folks that are coming in. Then we have an open co-working space if you will, for our employees, so if they come in to town for the ones remote, or if they’re a local and they want to just come in for a day or two, there’s plenty of desks they can go sit at. They just don’t have a dedicated space [inaudible 00:22:14].

Michael Romer:
One piece of advice I can give on that front, and we’ve really seen the benefits of this, is to have social events, and to actually have safe social events where people can come in and do fun things, and to actually hang out with their coworkers. Last night, we named a new partner yesterday, our 11 partners went out to dinner, and it was a great time. We took the whole firm to a nice, cool observation deck that opened in Midtown Manhattan a couple weeks ago, and we’re trying to do these social events to a) keep people connected, to come up with more glue that can gets them to stick to our company. That gets them to feel like they’re part of something, because that’s ultimately what we’re about. We could be the best law firm in the world, but if somebody’s not happy coming to work it’s going to be really hard to keep people

Kevin Daisey:
A hundred percent. We’re actually, tomorrow, so I have all my management team flying in tonight, and again, Florida, Michigan, I got Nashville, so we have some team all over, but they’re flying in tonight. Tomorrow, we’re having a manager’s retreat all day. Then tomorrow night, my whole team and spouses fly in, and we have our holiday party Saturday. That’s all day, Saturday and Saturday night. We also try to do that in the summertime. We have a founder’s club. If you make that, me and my partner take those employees on a trip. Yeah, we’re trying to do the same thing, trying to get people together. I do some happy hours, virtual happy hours. We have virtual company lunch every Thursday, so anyone can tune in and jump on and eat lunch together. Yeah, same thing. We’re trying to do as much as that as we can. I don’t want anyone siloed or thinking they’re off on their own, and not getting any collaboration from the team, but yeah, it’s a little more challenge, a little bit different tactics. You got to go, but sounds like you’re doing a good job at navigating it.

Michael Romer:
Yeah. It’s adapt or die. You have to change to the new way of doing things.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, love it. Awesome. Okay. Well, next question, and then we’ll wrap it up here. What’s the outlook for your firm? What’s some of the growth plans, maybe the next couple years? I know COVID’s thrown a wrench in a lot of people’s plans, worried exactly what might happen, but what are some of the things that you have on your mind as far as where you see the firm going from a growth standpoint?

Michael Romer:
Well, the firm is certainly grown over the years. We’re really happy with where we are, but we do see the firm continuing to grow. We actually have just recruited a well known partner from a much larger firm, who’ll be joining us in the next couple weeks. We’re still in growth mode, but we’re looking to grow with people who see the world as we do. People that we like to consider are good people. We try and stick to this no jerk policy, no matter how much business somebody has, so we are still in growth mode and we’re doing it with an eye on diversity too. It’s become very important to us.

Michael Romer:
I had a friend of mine that visited one of our partner’s meetings a few years back, and she looked around the room and said, “Guys, you’ve got a problem, and first and foremost, you’re missing women, and then you really need to work on diversity.” That’s been something that has been very important to us. I mean, my business partner, my other half actually happens to be Egyptian, and the diversity aspect of the firm has always been something that’s important to us, but we now have a concerted effort to really look at our office, look at our boardroom, look at everybody within the walls of our firm and keep that eye on diversity. Now, I’m happy to say that about 30% of our partners are female. Our diversity numbers are probably in the area of 50%, so as we grow, we’re trying to keep an eye on growing the right way and so far so good on that front, so we’re looking for more of the same. I anticipate another three or four hires, attorney wise, coming in the next six months, and we have no plans on stopping anytime soon.

Kevin Daisey:
Well, if it’s working, let it keep going. Slow and steady growth is good. Yeah, good on the diversity side of things. We also too are in a good spot for that and we’re happy to report that, but also, I had, recently, I invited James Lewis, James Alexander Lewis, V. He’s actually with the New York City Bar, and he’s the executive director of diversity inclusion for the city, New York City Bar. Really awesome guy. His interview was just a few weeks ago, so I’m not sure if it’s actually out on the podcast yet, but a great guy to connect with. You’re part of the New York City Bar, James Lewis.

Michael Romer:
[inaudible 00:27:07] to connect with.

Kevin Daisey:
He’s part of that. That’s his whole effort. They have all kinds of different programs, and training, and stuff to help other firms with diversity. Again, just a great guest, great guy and he’s [inaudible 00:27:26] personality. Yeah. Reach out to him and connect with him, but kudos on that. Everyone, if you’re tuning in, listening, Michael’s website address is below, so you got romerdebbas.com. That’s, if you’re listening, R-O-M-E-R-D-E-B-B-A-S.com. Go ahead and check out their website. See what they’re all about. Connect with them. Obviously, if you have any real estate needs, I’m sure they’re happy to help. Michael, is there another way that people could reach out and connect with you personally if they wanted to connect?

Michael Romer:
Well, you could find us on all social media platforms. LinkedIn, your Twitter or Facebook. For me personally, you can look me up, Michael Romer on LinkedIn, use the J easier to find me and you’ll find me there. My email is MRomer@romerdebbas.com. Or you can call us at the office at (212) 888-3100, and I look forward to hearing from any of you. From a law firm standpoint, we’re always looking for quality talent, and we’re always looking for people that are looking to grow and hopefully become part of us, and grow in a friendly culture.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. Yeah. Anyone listening, young attorneys or law students who we’re trying to make sure we get out to as well, check them out. It looks like a great firm, great culture, good place to work, and Michael’s looking for good people. Michael, thanks so much again for joining me today.

Michael Romer:
Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:
To check out his episode. It’ll be up soon on our website, arraylaw.com, forward slash podcast, and it’ll also be available on every single platform for podcasting, and it’ll be up on my LinkedIn and Facebook as well soon, so keep an eye out for that. We’ll also be sharing a lot of this content, micro content information, Michael, that we’ll share with you as well. You and your firm can tag and share, and so look for that soon, as well as the Management Partner’s newsletter, which goes out every week. We’ll feature guests in that episode as well. I mean, in that newsletter, and so look out for that in your inbox.

Kevin Daisey:
If you’re interested to sign up for that newsletter, you can go to our website and sign up for it. If you need any help with marketing, growing your firm, getting the word out about how awesome your firm is, that’s what we do. We can help you get on Google, social media, and we help with websites as well. Michael, anything else you’d like to share before we go?

Michael Romer:
No, just a big thank you to you and the team for having me today, and it was my pleasure.

Kevin Daisey:
No, my pleasure, and I appreciate you sharing today. I hope everyone learned a lot. Michael had a lot of great things to share about how you run a company, how you run a law firm, build great culture, how he’s dealing with COVID and hybrid models, so a lot of great things. Diversity, so back this up, listen to it again and reach out to Michael if you need any help.

Kevin Daisey:
We good? Everyone. Thank you so much. Michael, I’ll talk to you soon. Have a great day.

Michael Romer:
Thank you.

 

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